Politicians in Libya are making another ill-advised bid for elections

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To call him déjà vu would be an understatement. Last month, Libyan politicians, drawn from the country’s two rival legislatures (one based in the capital Tripoli, the other in the eastern city of Tobruk) met in Morocco to agree on draft election laws. They did not share the text with the public, but drew praise from Western diplomats. After years of delay, Libya may be close to electing a new government that would end its long political deadlock.

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Then came the horrors. The leaders of the two Libyan legislatures were supposed to personally sign the draft but backed out at the last minute. Lawmakers in one part of the divided country called elections within eight months. The UN A special envoy suggested that this was optimistic, as “legal loopholes and technical deficiencies” meant that the new electoral laws would not wash.

Libya has been here before. It slipped into civil war and territorial division after the overthrow of Muammar Qaddafi in 2011. one and the Western powers see elections as the way out of this crisis and have tried again to organize them. All efforts have failed – and yet they are now asking the same politicians and militia leaders to give it another shot.

The most recent failure was in 2021, when the authorities set an election date and registered nearly 3m voters. They are still waiting. Officially the ballot was canceled due to legal issues, including eligibility. Libya had no constitution or electoral laws, a dilemma that the talks in Morocco were intended to resolve.

For some participants, the biggest issue was the question of who deserves to run for president, a debate that focused on one man: Khalifa Haftar, the warlord who tried in vain to conquer Tripoli, in 2019. Politicians are there to disqualify him. , either by banning military men or people with dual citizenship (Mr. Haftar has an American passport).

The draft election laws are said to require candidates to hang up their military uniforms. But that’s hardly a sustainable solution. Mr. Haftar could hand over control of his own Libyan National Army to his son Saddam, whom he has prepared for the job. If he loses the election, however, he could take them back – and perhaps try to change the result by force.

For all the high-spirited talk about electoral laws, the real, grim reason why Libya has yet to elect a new government is this: no one has the incentive to hold elections that could remove them from power .

In 2021, when Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh, a construction chief, was named prime minister of the internationally recognized government in Tripoli, he promised not to run for president. He later refused. Aguila Saleh, the leader of the rump parliament in the east, fears losing his grip on power and has tried to block any political progress.

Lying in the background is Seif al-Islam Qaddafi, the deposed dictator’s second son. He has been quietly plotting a return – never mind that he has been sentenced to death by a court in Tripoli and extradited by the International Criminal Court. He registered as a presidential candidate before the 2021 election was suspended.

He has kept a low profile: two years ago, in a rare interview with the New York Times, compared his comeback to a “striptease”. If Libya’s rival factions agree on an election date, however, he may suspend his campaign and cast himself as a unifying figure. It might work: 12 years after they ousted him, many Libyans look back on the Qaddafi era as a time of relative stability. That is another reason for delaying the rulers of the country at the moment.

At least for now, the stalemate doesn’t seem so bad. Violence has decreased. High oil prices keep billions flowing into the treasury, which helps calm buying. But this is not sustainable: if the political process fails, fighting is likely to start again. Libyan leaders still prefer to take power by force rather than win it through elections.

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